You may remember a time when your IT department had complete control over all technology decisions that were made by your organization.

Back in the day, everything was simple, clean, and to a good level, secure.

However, as your employees start realizing that their personal apps and programs can help them do their jobs faster and more effectively, they may have started installing their own programs in your computers — secretly, at that.

Unfortunately, without your oversight over such behavior, your organization has probably fallen victim to what tech-based businesses call Shadow IT.

Shadow IT may have surfaced because tech-savvy people in your company discovered more efficient ways to get their work done.

But the truth is, your business is at risk when employees bypass the internal IT services and start doing their own thing – even in the name of efficiency.

Today we’re going to dive into what Shadow IT is and how your tech-based business can help prevent the fallout from such a loss of data control.

What is Shadow IT?

Shadow IT refers to the use of IT systems (whether it be systems, software, personal devices, or external apps) within an organization without the knowledge or approval of the official IT team.

In the past, employees had no way of acquiring, let alone maintaining, technology that extended beyond the scope of what their company provided them to do their jobs.

But, as technology advanced, employees became more knowledgeable.

And, it became increasingly common for tech-based business IT teams to find that there were more unapproved software being used on company machines than ever before.

Though this unapproved software is being used to increase productivity, efficiency, and quality of work, it opens up your business to a slew of challenges:

  • IT teams are being asked to support devices and applications they have no knowledge of
  • Computers systems are being locked from the inside because of conflicts
  • IT resources and costs begin to skyrocket
  • Employee training regarding proper use of company machines has to be reinstated
  • Sensitive data is being transferred across too many systems and software to “get the job done”

But most importantly, Shadow IT essentially drives traffic to your business website and internal business systems that isn’t wanted (in other words you open up yourself to hackers).

Combating Shadow IT from the Inside

1. Encourage an Open-Door Policy

There’s a reason Shadow IT has appeared in your tech-based business.

And, whether you’re a small startup expanding your business with a new set of freelancers, or a well-established corporation, the best way to start addressing Shadow IT is to:

  • Make a company-wide announcement informing people that you know Shadow IT practices are occurring and that there will be steps to stop it and prevent it from happening in the future
  • Let everyone know that for the time being, they will face no repercussions for participating in Shadow IT, but that they must come forward and agree to stop in the future

Whatever your IT team is doing now is obviously not working if your employees have decided to take matters into their own hands and use unapproved software and systems to complete projects.

By empowering them to come forward with their ideas, and agreeing not to penalize them right away, you’ll be able to fix the problem a lot faster.

You’ll also be able to make improvements in your company’s workflow that you didn’t know needed help.

2. Invest in Professional Security Services

An experienced security company, such as Bulletproof, has the ability to monitor your business’ systems, identify internal security threats, and prevent and resulting damage.

In fact, with a reliable security company handling your security issues, you can expect the following:

  • Penetration testing to discover weaknesses within your company’s systems
  • Automated security scans, threat detection, and instant system restores
  • 24/7 managed security monitoring (SIEM), data loss prevention, and system security compliance
  • IT and security training for your employees
  • DDoS mitigation so your site never experiences downtime
  • Detailed reports outlining system activity that happens throughout your company

By investing in a reputable security company, your reduce the chances your employees are infiltrating your systems and making them vulnerable to outside attack.

3. Enforce the Rules

Once you have the backing of a reliable security company monitoring your business’ activity, it’s time to enforce the rules.

Most tech-based companies have an employee handbook that outlines what people can and can’t do on company machines.

Some of the things most tech-based companies prohibit:

  • Inserting personal USB devices into company machines such as computers
  • The use of phones on company premises
  • Using instant messaging apps to discuss or share sensitive company data and information
  • Relying on unsecured Google docs or other cloud apps that can be easily breached

Shadow IT and How Your Tech-Based Business Can Overcome It

It’s up to you as a business owner to take control of what will and won’t be tolerated when it comes to employees attempting to work around established IT systems.

And, since you’ll have access to security reports detailing the activity on your company’s IT systems (much like the reports you analyze when looking at your company’s site traffic), you’ll be able to identify those within your company that are breaking the rules.

4. Provide Cutting Edge Solutions and Technology

The main reason Shadow IT emerges is because whatever processes you have working within your business are not actually working.

As a result, people look for better solutions themselves.

If you really want to thwart Shadow IT, and thus reduce the chances your company falls prey to cyber attacks, work to provide exceptional technology for employees to use.

This way they never feel the need to circumvent your IT systems in search of a newer, better way of doing things.

One of the best examples of this is providing employees access to secure cloud-based file sharing applications such as Dropbox.

Shadow IT and How Your Tech-Based Business Can Overcome It

Though business email seems like a more cost-effective solution, the truth is, sharing important data related to your company through email is not always a good idea.

After all, people can easily hack into your employees’ email accounts if they don’t take the necessary measures to protect their email accounts against password theft.

And, if that’s the only way you allow employees to share data, you run the risk of hackers intercepting sensitive data, or employees finding other applications for storing and saving files.

5. Conduct Ethical Hacking

Ethical hackers are those dedicated to simulating hack attacks on your IT network to check for vulnerabilities.

Ethical hackers can perform several tests on your IT systems:

  • Internal Testing: simulation of an internal attack by someone within your organization
  • External Testing: checking external systems such as web apps, DNS, and other websites
  • Targeted Testing: testing performed by your IT team and a hired penetration tester
  • Blind Testing: simulation of an attack from an outside source, without having prior knowledge about your business (your IT team is aware of the incoming attack)
  • Double-Blind Testing: simulation of an attack from an external source, without having prior knowledge of your business (your IT team is not aware of the incoming attack)

By routinely testing the strength of your business’ IT systems you can manage security threats, discover Shadow IT, and tighten up holes that may cause you to lose data to hackers.

6. Allow Private Browsing

It may seem counterintuitive to allow your employees to browse the internet privately. After all, this will make it harder for you to track their daily activity.

However, using free software such as Tor Browser, you can protect your business from outside threats:

  • Prevent people from knowing which sites your employees visit
  • Don’t give the sites you visit access to your physical location
  • Access sites that are blocked
  • Protect your company’s processes

Shadow IT and How Your Tech-Based Business Can Overcome It

By not giving hackers a way to tap into what you’re doing, you protect your sensitive business information. Even if it means giving up some internal control.

Not to mention, you’ll prevent other businesses from using retargeting strategies to track your employees and tap into the information they’re using to complete company projects.

Final Thoughts

Shadow IT is something almost every tech-based business is going to deal with at one point or another.

It could be because your IT systems make working more difficult and less efficient, or your employees just like to do things the way they want to.

No matter what the reason, you’ll have to contend with the vulnerabilities unapproved systems, software, and devices bring to your business as a whole.

That said, there are some simple ways to combat Shadow IT, secure your organization’s sensitive data, and keep employees following the rules you have in place.

All you have to do is implement them.